D: Charles Stone III / 94m
Cast: Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez, Shea Whigham, Julius Tennon, Aml Ameen, Ron Caldwell, Andre Royo, Chris Chalk, Michole Briana White, Yolonda Ross
Following the death of her eldest son Stephon (Ameen) in a drive-by shooting, single mother Lila (Davis) finds herself at a loss as to how to continue with her life. She puts on a brave front for her youngest son Justin (Caldwell), and struggles with the lack of progress the police are making in finding her son’s killer. When she attends a local support group she meets Eve (Lopez), who lost her nine year old daughter. Eve persuades Lila to look into Stephon’s death herself, and they start by looking into why the intended victim of the drive-by shooting was the target. They learn that the victim was dealing drugs where he shouldn’t have been and his death was just a matter of “business”. In the process of learning this, Eve shoots and kills the drug dealer who gives them the information, but not before he’s given them the names of the men who supplied him.
The detectives investigating Stephon’s death, Holliston (Whigham) and Skaketti (Royo), are assigned to this new shooting. While it looks like another gang hit, Holliston isn’t so sure. Lila, meanwhile, having been shocked by Eve’s actions, tries to put it behind her. A burgeoning romance with her neighbour, Ben (Tennon), keeps her occupied until Eve pressures her into finding the men who supplied the dead dealer. They follow them to the roof of a car park; once there, Lila pulls a gun on them and when they try to resist she shoots and wounds one and kills another (as well as another dealer). This time the wounded man gives them the name of the man who carried out the shooting, Alonzo (Chalk), then Lila kills him. Holliston begins to piece together what’s happening and becomes suspicious of Lila. And then she and Eve find Alonzo, and Lila prepares to take her revenge…
A female-driven murder/revenge movie that features a bravura performance from Viola Davis, Lila and Eve has a fatalistic 70’s feel to it that suits the mood and the tone of the narrative, and keeps its tale of hate-filled revenge refreshingly simple and straightforward. It does stretch credulity at times in terms of how easily Lila and Eve find out who’s responsible for Stephon’s death, and how inept it makes the otherwise quite astute Holliston look in comparison, but this corner-cutting by screenwriter Patrick Gilfillan keeps the movie from meandering, and allows the pace to aid in keeping the audience involved.
It helps that the viewer also remains involved thanks to Davis’s emotive, fearless portrayal of Lila, a woman pushed to the edge by the sense of injustice she feels regarding her son’s death, and who finds the strength within herself to navigate the moral maze revenge throws up in her path. For a movie that looks to have been made on a fairly low budget, and which aims for a gritty realism (which it achieves for the most part), Davis’s presence elevates the material and makes the movie much more than a simple revenge drama. As her friend and confederate in revenge, Lopez is much more effective here than she was in The Boy Next Door (2015), bringing a coiled, steely energy to her role that fits comfortably with Lila’s hesitant, uncertain belief in what they’re doing. Whigham is equally good as the detective who cites Columbo as a role model for cops, and Tennon (Davis’s real life husband) adds a layer of humility and gentleness that provides the movie with some necessary breathing room.
Rating: 7/10 – directed with confidence and unassuming flair by Stone III, Lila and Eve is a spirited, enjoyable crime drama that isn’t afraid to show the human consequences of random violence; a pleasant surprise amongst all the other crime dramas out there and well worth watching for the performances alone (even Royo’s, whose character is written as an idiot, and is subsequently played like one).